Once again this year I authored the Canada Report for Freedom House‘s Freedom on the Net 2017. It’s worth saying (as I did last year) how much I think it’s an honour to do so. But it’s easy to establish that we are pretty lucky in Canada in comparison to a lot of places. Let’s take a look at how much it sucks to be in…
China leads the way in being the least free, for the 3rd year running. They have a score of 87, which is crap. The way the scoring works, the higher your number the less free you are on the net. Overall there are three categories – 1. Obstacles to Access; 2. Limits on Content; and 3. Violations of User Rights. They are scored out of 25, 35, and 40 respectively, for a total of 100. By comparison to 87, I scored Canada at 15 (third most free in the world!). Iceland was the winner at 6. As part of China’s 87, they scored a “perfect” 40 out of 40 in violations of user rights. Yegads. Let’s see what the legal environment is like with regard to your “rights” in China:
The constitution cannot generally be invoked in courts as a legal basis for asserting rights. The judiciary is not independent and closely follows party directives, particularly in politically sensitive freedom of expression cases. Government agencies issue regulations to establish censorship guidelines. These are highly secretive and subject to constant change, and they cannot be challenged by the courts. Prosecutors exploit vague provisions in China’s criminal code; laws governing printing and publications; subversion, separatism, and antiterrorism laws; and state secrets legislation to imprison citizens for online activity. Trials and hearings typically lack due process.
Think about that next time you get into a Twitter beef. And if you think your privacy takes a beating here in Canada, try this:
Privacy protections under Chinese law are minimal. In the words of one expert, the law explicitly authorizes government access to privately held data, and “systematic access” to “data held by anyone” is a realistic possibility once e-government strategies are fully implemented
Russia scored a 66, clearly in the “not free” range of scores. You go ahead and say what you want about Trudeau, but think about this:
Facing major antigovernment protests across Russia in 2017 and a presidential election scheduled for March 2018, the authorities scrambled to tighten control over the internet. Lawmakers took every opportunity to push through legislation aimed at curbing unchecked expression of dissent online.
And if you are an LGBTI person in Russia, forget it. You will be censored and fined for saying and doing things related to your community online. Russia has passed a shitload of laws that gets stuff banned and removed from being online. The “authorities have wide discretion to block content online”. Good luck reading this blog in Russia.
Russia banned LinkedIn because it refused to have its data about Russian users stored on Russian servers. I don’t know how I could live without those LinkedIn emails that “Jimmy is celebrating a work anniversary.” Wait, maybe that’s not so bad…
Sure, you think of Saudi Arabia as a pretty reasonable place (US ally! oil!) compared to some of its Middle East neighbours. You are wrong. Scored a 72. Basically you can’t see or say anything:
The Saudi government continued to employ strict filtering of internet content throughout 2016 and early 2017. Self-censorship remained prevalent when discussing politics, religion, and the royal family.
Sites about the Shia minority, women, human rights, political organizations and otherstuff like that are routinely blocked. How’d you like to live in this place:
Authorities have also blocked the website of the Islamic Umma Party, the country’s only political party, which operates underground because political parties are illegal
The more you know. The section for “Prosecutions and Detentions for Online Activities” is a fucking scary thing to read. Many 10-year and more sentences for things like creating a website “that could disturb the social order”. That is essentially the definition of online activism.
Venezuela went from “partly free” in 2016 to “not free” in 2017, scoring a 63. Apparently having your economy collapse and your government in crisis is bad for internet freedom!
Let us pause for a moment to check out how prevalent misinformation and manipulation is on the Net now:
Fake news! Which brings us to…
The United States
Of course the United States is free, scoring a very respectable 21 and tying for 5th. However, it scored 18 last year. And it’s the least free it’s been in all the years Freedom House has measured this (since 2011). Let’s copy some bullet points of some of the things going wrong down South:
- Social media were flooded with hyperpartisan and fake content during the 2016 presidential election campaign. Russian-operated social media accounts and state media engaged in disinformation and influence campaigns to polarize the media environment
- Journalists writing about political or social topics faced an uptick in antisemitism, death threats, and harassment on social media in the lead-up to the election
- Under new leadership, the Federal Communications Commission announced its intention to roll back net neutrality protections
Some final thoughts
The overall report has the title “Manipulating Social Media to Undermine Democracy”. That’s… not good! The internet is supposed to spread democracy, not hurt it. The report notes that “online content manipulation contributed to a seventh consecutive year of overall decline in internet freedom”. World, we need to do better dammit.
Finally, I would like to dedicate my work on the Canada report to the authors of the following country reports – Angola, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Cambodia, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Do you know who those authors are? Neither do I, because they had to remain anonymous to write their reports, undoubtedly for fear of reprisals by the authorities in their countries. I’m pretty darn lucky to be where I am.
Sorry for the relatively serious post. We now return you to our usual snark.